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NYS FLAG FOOTBALL: OWEGO DROPS SEMIFINAL HEARTBREAKER TO SAYVILLE (2024-06-01)

By TIM TAYLOR
Tioga County Sports Report
CORTLAND — Two high-scoring offenses squaring off against two stubborn defenses — something had to give. In the end, defense won out and both sides as Sayville edged Owego, 12-7, in a battle of unbeatens in the NYSPHSAA Division 2 Flag Football semifinals Saturday afternoon.

The Golden Flashes took the lead on a 32-yard Olivia Moynihan pass to Ava Vadyak with 15:39 remaining in the game, then turned back the River Hawks the rest of the way to become the first D-2 finalist in state history.

Sayville (14-0) will face Bishop Kearney, a 13-2 winner over Clarence, for the title Sunday.

The loss was a hard pill for Owego to swallow.

“Obviously, it stinks right now,” Owego coach Rusty Virkler said. “Obviously, I wanted to win a state championship, but I cannot be more proud of this team going undefeated throughout the regular season, winning a sectional championship and making the first-ever final four in New York state history. So, like I said, it stinks right now, but I cannot be more proud of this team.”

The Golden Flashes showed that they were going to be a force to contend with early on as Ava Rueb intercepted a Kylie Grippen pass at the Owego 8 on the third play of the game. Two plays later, Olivia Moynihan was able to get off a 9-yard touchdown pass to Vadyak for a 6-0 lead with just 2:04 gone off the clock.

Undaunted, the River Hawks responded with a six-play, 60-yard drive capped by Cadia Fain’s 6-yard run at 19:01. Grippen threw to Ashlyn Dalton for a 16-yard first down and to Alex Aubel for 29 yards and a first-and-goal at the Sayville 6.

Dalton, despite heavy defensive pressure, snagged the PAT throw from Grippen to give Owego a 7-6 edge.

The defenses took over with Sayville punting twice and turning the ball over on downs once while the River Hawks turned the ball over on downs twice and punted once.

“They're obviously a very good team,” Virkler said. “They're undefeated for a reason. They have a lot of unique things they do defensively that put a lot of strain on our offense and, obviously, offense struggled, but I cannot give more credit to our team, our quarterback, for the entire season of working hard and having a great successful season.”

The Golden Flashes had one more possession before the half ended, but the clock expired on a second down incomplete pass at the Owego 19.

Sayville started the second half on offense, but key defensive plays by Silvestri and Dalton twice forced a punt. Unfortunately for Owego, Rueb picked off her second pass of the day and returned it into River Hawk territory.

A tripping penalty nullified a 15-yard Moynihan-to-Lindsay DiMenna. The penalty and a sack by Silvestri pushed the pigskin back to the Owego 32 but the Golden Flashes responded with their second Moynihan-to-Vadyak TD strike to go up for good.

Sayville threatened again on its next possession, but pressure by Fain on Moynihan forced an errant pass which Dodge intercepted at her own nine and returned to the 40. A penalty tacked on at the end of the play put the ball at the Sayville 35, but Faith Roben picked off Grippen near the goal line

The River Hawks had four possessions during the game’s final 15 ½ minutes. Unfortunately for Owego, they resulted in a punt from their own 25, the Roben interception, a turnover on downs at the Sayville 15 (created by a pair of back-to-back sacks by Amelia Sarni, and the expiration of the game clock.

Owego would outgain Sayville, 200-169, but had three interceptions to just one by the Golden Flashes. The River Hawk defense made 12 tackles for losses or no gain while Sayville had four.

“Honestly, the first touchdown was kind on the offense, kind of putting our defense in bad field position, but I thought we kind of shut their offense down except for the one funky play,” Virkler said. “Our defense did a great job again today.”

Grippen was 11-for-18 for 152 yards and Aubel threw one pass for six yards to Fain.

Aubel caught four passes for 76 yards, Brown had two receptions for 39, Ashlyn Dalton grabbed four for 36, Taylor Dalton had one for four and Dodges added one for three.

Fain carried the rock 10 times for 34 yards and Grippen tacked on six rushes for eight yards.

Ashlyn Dalton led the defense with nine tackles, six sacks, six quarterback pressures and one deflection, and Silvestri contributed seven tackles, two sacks and two QB pressures. Dodge chipped in with four tackles and an interception; and Brooklyn Guarnier had four tackles and a QB pressure.

Aubel and Ebba Lindhout added two tackles apiece; Taylor Dalton recorded one tackle and a pass deflection; Fain had two QB pressures; Grippen had one tackle; Herceg had one pass deflection; and Jaelynne Lovell tacked on one QB pressure.

Owego finished the season with a 16-1 record.

Looking ahead to next season, Virkler said Owego just needs to take it game by game.

“Obviously, we'd like to make it back next year,” he said. “That's the goal. Take some time, kind of go in the off-season, reflect and then get ready for next year.”

The River Hawks will have some big shoes to fill due to graduation as they bid farewell to Aubel, Oriah Boland, Brown, Emma Casterline, Olivia Crapser, Taylor Dalton, Guarnier, Lindhout and Ava Vasquez.

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IN PHOTO 1: Owego’s Cadia Fain extends the ball for a TD. … PHOTOS BY TIM TAYLOR.

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